Prime Minister's Questions, factchecked

Published: 22nd Mar 2017

Schools funding: a manifesto breach?

“The manifesto on which [the PM] fought the last election promised that ‘under a future Conservative government, the amount of money following your child into school will be protected’... she was clearly elected on a pledge not to cut school funding and that’s exactly what is happening.”

Jeremy Corbyn, 22 March 2017

“We are seeing record levels of funding going into our schools. We have protected the schools budget.”

Theresa May, 22 March 2017

The 2015 Conservative manifesto did promise that “the amount of money following your child into school will be protected”. So how’s that looking?

Mrs May is correct that spending on state schools in England is at record levels, but that in itself isn’t particularly impressive—government budgets are often at record levels in cash terms, just to keep up with inflation. It’s also important to know how many pupils that money has to cover.

If you just look at funding per pupil and ignore inflation, it appears correct that the schools budget in the coming years has been protected. The same is true if you factor in inflation but ignore rising pupil numbers.

But real-terms funding per pupil—that is, taking both factors into account—is set to fall. That’s the conclusion of analysis from the National Audit Office and, more recently, the Institute for Fiscal Studies. The latter projects a 6.5% reduction by 2019/20.

The full extract from the Conservative manifesto reads:

“Under a future Conservative Government, the amount of money following your child into school will be protected. As the number of pupils increases, so will the amount of money in our schools. On current pupil number forecasts, there will be a real-terms increase in the schools budget in the next Parliament.”

It’s not entirely clear whether this is a promise to protect spending both in real terms and per pupil.

The government did protect the real-terms schools budget per pupil in the last parliament, and the IFS notes that the projected falls “follow on from very significant growth over the 2000s”.

We’ve been talking here about spending on pupils up to the age of 16, in primary and secondary schools in England only. The funding situation at other levels within England are different, and education is a devolved responsibility in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Teachers with first class degrees

“We now see more teachers in our schools, we see more teachers with first class degrees in our schools.”

Theresa May, 22 March 2017

The Prime Minister has made similar comments before and we found that teacher numbers generally have increased between 2010 and 2015. But the number of primary teachers has risen while the number of secondary teachers is down. We’ve asked the Department for Education if Mrs May was referring to the same time frame.

There was one teacher for every 17.4 pupils across England in 2015. That’s up from 17.2 between 2011 and 2013.

That’s counting both qualified and unqualified teachers, although the trend is broadly the same if you just look at qualified teachers.

Between 2011 and 2015 the pupil-teacher ratio in all state nursery and primary schools stayed the same at 20.5. In state secondary schools it went from 14.9 to 15.3. Again, this is looking across all teachers whether qualified or not.

Teachers with first class degrees

The Department for Education pointed us to initial figures suggesting that around 4,800 (or 18%) of the 26,700 new entrants to postgraduate teacher training had a first class degree in 2016/17.

These figures are still to be finalised and might change, but so far that’s the same proportion of postgraduate trainees with a first class degree as last year, although the number is slightly down. Last year there were 5,000 entrants with a first class degree.

We can’t directly compare to the years before 2015/16 because the Department for Education only counted teacher training entrants via the Teach First programme from 2015/16 onwards. But we can say that between 2012/13 and 2014/15 the proportion increased from 14% to 17%.

The National Audit Office has said that “degree class is a reasonable indicator of subject knowledge but a less clear predictor of other aspects of teacher quality.” It also points out that many secondary subjects don’t have enough trainees to fill all the training places. “14 out of 17 secondary subjects had unfilled training places, compared with 2 subjects with unfilled places in 2010/11”.

Not all teachers go into teacher training having already qualified in something else. Around one in six trainee teachers are undergraduates.

Tax cuts: corporation tax, inheritance, capital gains and the bank levy

“Can the PM explain to parents why cutting capital gains tax, cutting inheritance tax, cutting corporation tax, cutting bank levy are all more important than our children’s future?”

Jeremy Corbyn, 22 March 2017

It’s true that corporation tax and inheritance tax have been cut overall since 2010, when the Coalition government entered office. But this quote doesn’t give a balanced view of changes to capital gains tax or the bank levy.

Corporation tax revenues are lower mainly because of cuts to the main corporation tax rate.

The government can change taxes in ways other than adjusting the main rate. For example, it can change the threshold at which people have to pay the tax, tighten up the rules to counter tax avoidance, or offer reliefs and additional allowances.

The biggest drop in inheritance tax has come from an allowance which is meant to make it easier to pass on “the family home”.

Sometimes, the government can do these things at the same time.

Cuts to corporation tax rates have been been partly offset by measures to lower capital allowances or to reduce tax avoidance. Policies announced since the last general election have actually tended to increase the amount of corporation tax companies pay, despite cuts to the main rate. Corporation tax revenues are still down overall due to policies announced since 2010, but not as much as they would have been.

For capital gains tax, the main rate has fallen but policies under both the Conservative and Coalition governments have tended to push revenues up overall.

Finally, it’s arguably unfair to single out the cut to the bank levy on its own.

The levy was a particular kind of tax on banks, partly intended to stop them taking on risky funding strategies after the financial crisis.  

It was introduced under the Coalition in 2011 and reduced from 2015, when a new surcharge on bank profits was introduced. Reducing the bank levy and introducing the surcharge will have boosted tax revenues, according to Treasury estimates.

We published a piece on whether the Conservatives had brought in £70 billion of tax cuts earlier this week. You can read it here.


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